Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Calgary Flames now Calgary Flickers?



In the Spring / Summer 2012 Hockey Zones edition I wrote the following:

…The time has come for the Flames organization to do a major re-building, not a “reload” or “tweaking”. The current team is not close to being a serious playoff team and potential Stanley Cup contender. The team must acquire some top end offensive skilled players, otherwise the losing pain will continue year after year. Players such as Bouwmeester and Iginla should be traded for draft picks…The Flames must also inject more youth into the team. Kids like Baertschi, Backlund, Brodie…should be given more ice time and a more important role next season…

On Friday April 19th I attended the Flames game against the Anaheim Ducks. It was Miikka Kiprusoff’s final game of the season on home ice...maybe his last game as a Calgary Flame? The fans were aware and showed their support and appreciation with a standing ovation during the last 2 minutes of the game. For this writer, it was the top hi-light – a very special moment - in a very disappointing Flames season. Kipper stopped 32 shots and received the 1st star of the game from a Flames 3 to 1 victory. Will Kipper be back next season? It’s one of many questions facing the Flames organization and fans who turn their focus towards next September.

Reflecting back on this shortened lockout season, new Coach Bob Hartley did bring a refreshing puck pressure, higher tempo, and more entertaining game for Flames fans. At the start of the season like every new coach of a team, Coach Hartley was getting to know his players. After 20 games into the season Hartley realized he did not have the talent or size to excel. Really folks?... did the Flames have a No: 1 line this past season? When we look at the other 29 teams in the league the Flames probably had the worst No: 1 line!  As well, there were too many 3rd liners on the team.

Coach Hartley is a very demanding and savvy coach; it will be a much different Flames team on the ice next October. You heard it here! The team needs to be younger, faster, have more size, play more physical and show more grit. Coach Hartley is now cognizant of the character and talent in the Flames dressing room. He will have a greater influence on the make up of the team going forward. Changes will be blowing in the wind this Summer!!

After not making the playoffs for the 4th season in row, the Calgary Flames organization have some important questions to answer to rebuild this franchise and bring back a winning team to the city. Here are a few thoughts that come to mind. I am sure you have many others!

What is the main goal of the Flames organization?

In the past, ownership and management had over-valued some of the talent on the team and now is the time to make some more progressive and major changes post Iginla era. The organization plans to retool the team with the expectations to make the playoffs next season.  A lofty goal indeed to maintain fan interest and enthusiasm but how realistic is this? The Montreal Canadiens finished near the bottom of the NHL standings in 2012 and turned it around this season to win the North - East Division! So it can be done… but the Flames will have to make some bold and progressive moves!  They will need to win the lottery in the free agent market and their young guns must truly start to excel next season. The team possesses assets it did not have last year including three  - 1st round picks in the NHL entry draft as well GM Jay Feaster finally has some salary cap room to play with (approximately $20M+). He can finally start to mould the team to his and Coach Hartley’s likings. Next season’s salary cap is estimated at $64.3 Million and the Flames owners are prepared to max the cap!

Who will be the new Captain of the Flames?

Maybe one of last season’s alternates - Mark Giordano, Mike Cammalleri, Curtis Glencross? Or maybe someone else like Dennis Wideman or a proven winner from the free agent market to provide the necessary team leadership? Personally, I would like to see Mark Giordano wear the C. He plays with heart every shift!

Do they make a bold move or two? Trade Cammalleri (1 year at $6 million) and / or Tanguay (3 years at $3.5 million) or buy them out?

Under the new CBA each team has two freebie buyouts, this off season or next, each team can let loose 2 players at a cost of 2/3 salary with a zero salary cap residue. Yes, the timing maybe right to buyout one or maybe both of the veterans or package them in a trade or multiple trades. However, it may be difficult to trade Cammalleri because his production is not in line with his contract. The Flames may have to pay a portion of his salary to make any trade work.

How do they fill the void and acquire a No: 1 Center on the team?

Can this be done with a major trade or via free agency? Probably a trade package will work best. Players like
Cammalleri, Tanguay, Sarich, Babchuk, Jackman or even Horak could be potential trade bait.

What to do with the goaltending situation?

Kipper it seems will not return and finish the last year of his contract for $1.5 million. The team must start planning for the near future - when the No: 1 goalie will not be Kipper. Joey Macdonald who they re-signed is a very capable back-up but can he be a seasoned starter?  The Flames have some very good prospects in Karri Ramo, KHL and Reto Berran, a Swiss goalie; Edmonton Oil Kings star Laurent Brossoit and Joni Ortio, a prospect from Europe as well. Will any of them rise up to be the No: 1 guy or will the Flames have to trade for a No: 1 goalie?  They certainly need to improve their overall team defence (2nd worst goals against in the league) and stabilizing the goalie position is of paramount importance.

What Free Agents do the Flames re-sign?

The most significant Flames restricted free agents are Aliu, Backlund, Bouma, Butler, Brodie, Bryon, Cervenka, and Cundari. The top priorities are Backlund and Brodie. They should also resign Aliu, Butler, Cervenka and Cundari. Cervenka needs a second chance – the challenges of a shortened season and adapting to the North American way of life limited his success and overall effectiveness. However, only do it with an incentive laden deal! The most significant unrestricted free agents are Begin, McGratton, Babchuk, Carson, Irving, and Taylor. They should resign only Begin. Let the others test the free agency market.

Who do they pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft?

Over the past 25 years the Flames have never picked in the top 5 of the NHL Entry draft. This year they will pick 6th overall and have 3 picks in the 1st 30 choices. They must deliver on some very good selections. They need to draft someone who can make the roster now. For their first pick at the No: 6 position, several top prospects should still be available such as Sean Monahan, Center, Ottawa 67’s who is 6’2” and 186 pounds. He is described as a big pivot who will take some time to make a big impact with his offensive game still developing. Elias Lindholm, Center, Bryon, Swedish Elite League, who is 6’0” and 185 pounds. He is a well rounded centre and uses great hockey sense to read the play and his vision is elite. Frederick Gautheir, Center, Rimouski, 6’5” and 210 pounds is a 2 way centre who has both the size and skating ability. The amateur scouting staff must do their due diligence prior to the draft date.

Will they aggressively pursue the free agent market?

Do they go after two or three of the following players? Centres like Patrik Elias, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, or Stephen Weiss. Right Wingers like Pierre Marc Bouchard, Nathan Horton, Michael Ryder, or Pascal Dupuis. Left Wingers like Brendan Morrow, Ryane Clowe, Clarke MacArthur, Dustin Penner, Mason Raymond, or Viktor Stalberg. Defensemen like Ron Hainey, Ryan Whitney, or Douglas Murray.  Goalies like Antero Niittymaki, Cristobal Huet and Alex Auld? The free agent list is slim this off season especially the goalie list! However, the problem may be – do any of these free agents want to play for a rebuilding team like Calgary or rather a guaranteed playoff team or potential Stanley Cup contender?

In Conclusion:

It seems like everything is on the table during the off season for progressive changes and advancement! The time has come for the Flames organization to do some major re-building work. The denial days are finally over!  The Flames must inject more youth, speed, physicality and grit into the team. Kids like Baertschi, Backlund, Brodie, Reinhart et al should be given more important roles next season. After that, roster improvements will have to definitely come through free agent signings or a few trades. The Flames have to take a few calculated risks! Yes indeed, Jay Feaster is still the man who can rebuild the current Flames roster and to get this team more competitive and later into the playoffs. However, we live in a very results orientated NHL world and the Flames fan base want positive changes and a competitive team soon not 5 years down the road. Say tuned. It will be a very interesting off season has management and the coaching staff tackles the rebuilding process. Time and patience will be two key words over the next couple of years.